Warriors Win Another At Home
HERRIMAN — Utah Warriors coach Greg Cooper used the word ‘courage’ throughout his postgame interview following his team’s 26-24 win over the New England Free Jacks on Friday, and for good reason.
Rugby is a physically-taxing sport, and Utah received a large tax on Friday, losing standout players such as Joe Mano, Paul Lasike and Jamie Lane, while others, such as Caleb Makene and Joel Hodgson just managed to play through their ailments.
“I just tried to survive out there,” an exhausted Makene said. “We had a couple of guys go out, so it wasn’t really an option for me until the final five minutes there. But I’m just really proud of all the boys.”
As for Cooper, he echoed Makene’s sentiments, stating, “I’m very, very proud of this team…It was courage, and sometimes seeing that courage against the leaders in the East (Division), and then come out on top is fantastic.”
Utah set the tone early on Friday, scoring on a penalty kick in the third minute to take a 3-0 lead.
New England matched it with one of its own in the 9th minute, which largely set a blueprint for how the first half would go for two teams playing a high level of rugby.
Utah’s first try came in the 18th minute after an impressive deep run by Connor McLeod led to Onehunga Havili crossing the try line, giving Utah a 10-3 lead before the Free Jacks matched it in the 22nd minute to tie things at 10-10.
Just three minutes later it was Mano, breaking down the sidelines for yet another highlight reel run that ended in a try, giving the Warriors a 15-10 lead after a missed conversion kick.
The Free Jacks then took a 17-15 lead after a try and successful conversion kick before Mika Kruse received an assist from Hodgson for a try and a 20-15 lead into the half following another failed conversion kick.
Fast starts have been hard to come by for Utah so far this season, although Cooper felt the first 40 minutes played Friday were some of the best he’s seen this year.
“I thought we were outstanding in that first half,” Cooper said. “We gave away a couple of really soft tries, but we competed very, very well. I thought we could have pulled away a bit more, but unfortunately we got some injuries.”
The first casualty was Lane, who left the game midway through the first half before Mano was forced to leave late in the half with what looked to be concussion precautions.
The injuries didn’t end there, with Lasike limping off with an apparent leg injury as adversity seemed to come at the Warriors at every direction.
Makene found himself hobbled for most of the second half after an injury to his foot while Hodgson gutted out what was said to be an injury to his ankle.
“That’s courage, and if you ever want to make the playoffs you have to have games like that,” Cooper said of both Makene and Hodgson playing through injury. “We showed the skill, we showed the ability, and then we showed the courage.”
The second half saw the Free Jacks take a 24-20 lead in the 46th minute before the match turned into a defensive struggle, with Hodgson booting through a penalty kick in the 59th minute to cut the lead to 24-23 before kicking through another in the 75th minute for the final score of 26-24.
With the win Utah improves to 4-2 on the season and will next travel to take on the Houston SaberCats on April 8.
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